Monday, March 19, 2007

Confessions of a Prospective Juror

If you ever want to get out of a jury duty on a personal injury case, just tell ‘em you’re a doctor.

Being a neophyte to the judicial system, I found today’s brief experience interesting: just herd a bunch of bodies into a room, show them a quick video, and violá, you’re a juror!

Then you wait. I had drawn a '#6' from a big tin can as I entered and discovered I was with Group 6 of the juror pool. It didn’t take long until our group number was called with two other groups, forming one Big Group. “Well, at least I’ll see how this works,” I thought. We were soon headed off to a courtroom two-by-two and took our seats.

The case to review involved a rear end vehicular collision – your basic civil case – no blood-and-guts criminal case for me. (Thank goodness). We were cautioned that this was the real deal - no Judge Judy or Law and Order or any other drama - just the drama between two individuals with one trying to get compensated, handsomely, for a rear-end collision and another individual trying to send the other packing with nothing.

I realized from the outset I identified with the defendant. After all, a car accident happened, didn't it? But the plaintiff's lawyer was careful to never say that word... no, he was going to try to determine if there was negligence and malice on the part of the defendant. It's not okay to have an accident on the road. Everyone must be perfect - everyone must know the "Rules of the Road."

I swept the room. Both the plaintiff and defendant seemed like solid citizens. Both appeared to ambulate without difficulty (each had to retire to the restroom once). Both seemed to hate each other (glares were exchanged on more than one occassion). My diagnostic eye was in overdrive - I examined the plaintiff carefully accross the room: gait normal, uses both hands without difficulty, turns head without difficulty, leans forward to speak to her lawyer without screaming, no rubbing of the neck, posture appropriate. In retrospect, it's probably best to avoid the diagnostic endeavor, but it's hard - it's like a moth being drawn to the flame...

Needless to say, I was rejected before getting out of the starting block.

“It says here that you’re a physician?”

“Yes”

“What kind?”

“A cardiac electrophysiologist.”

Puzzled, the lawyer asks, “Is that like a cardiologist?”

“Yes, sir – an electrician for the heart if you will.”

“Have you ever treated patients for injuries after car accidents?”

“Yes, I used to be an emergency room physician for the United States Navy and treated many patients involved in car accidents.”

“Thank you, that will be all.”

Booooiiinnnggggg. Damn. Bounced out like a SuperBall on a hot, dry pavement. But it was still fun to see and participate in the process. I did get to sit through the jury selection process and observe. Soon the Lucky 14 were selected and we were dismissed. Here are a few of my revelations from my brief experience:

1) The accident involved occurred in 2002, and it’s now worked its way to a juried trial in 2007. Damn that’s a long time. I can’t imagine what the legal fees had been so far.

2) The verbal and communication skills coupled with the appearance of the lawyers matters greatly – at least to this prospective juror. The plaintiff’s lawyer remained seated during questioning of the jurors; the defense lawyer stood as he asked his questions – somehow, the defense attorney came off as more confident and secure.

3) Even where the jurors sat mattered, for reasons that were not clear to me.

4) Great lengths were made to assure the selection of jurors was truly random.

5) $17.20 is not enough pay per day for jurors.

6) In my non-scientific study, 14 initial jurors selected, ten (71%) had been in an auto accident some time in their life, and five (36%) had been involved in litigation for one of these accidents. Seems not everyone is perfect after all. Certainly, people have the right to sue their fellowman in our great country, and defendants have the right to due process. There will always be appropriate suits filed. But there still seems to lurk in the back of my head a feeling (especially when such potentially large sums are to be bestowed on the plaintiff while the defendant is happy to walk away with hefty legal fees), biases me to think that many try to take advantage of the system to make a buck. Lawyers, it seems, will never go out of business.

But the system as it is, worked. Although I did not get to stay for the trial, I pondered what I had been though. Somewhat reluctantly I reflected on the day and despite it all, I still feel damn proud of the judiciary here in the good ol' U.S. of A.

-Wes

16 comments:

The Independent Urologist said...

I had the exact same experience. In 1999 I was called to jury duty in Cook County, perhaps were you served. My case also involved a car accident and the judge informed us that the key testimony would come from a chiropracter. Several minutes later the plaintiff's attorney questioned me about my profession. I said I was a urologist and then was summarily dismissed.
Too bad, because I overall was impressed by the experience and felt that I could have been impartial.
Nice post.
Say hi to Tom Keeler.

View from the Trekant said...

Same experience here - called for a jury that involved a woman with prior DUI trying to get out of a current DUI by claiming her TMJ was acting up on the day of the accident - and that this what made her stumble on the road-side intoxication eval.

As soon as I told them I'm a physician - boom - You're out!

I'll bet there are other professions excluded semi- routinely. It seems you took away a benign view of this, but I can't help but wonder if there isn't a drive to keep more educated and experienced folks in general off juries. I'm not so sure that makes it the jury of "peers" intended by our constitution's framers.

They should have kept you Wes - I'm sure you would have made a very responsible foreman!

Echo Doc

Carol said...

I've been called twice - once for an independent business man accused of stealing from his own company. I was dumped because my father owned his own company. Another time for a case againt a woman accused of striking a police officer while he attempted to arrest her for public intoxication. I was dumped because I admitted that I though a legal immigrant who had been in the States for 15 years should speak enough English to understand when an officer tells her she is under arrest and to stop trying to get away from him. Her defense was that she didn't understand his instructions. Imagine.

Gasman said...

I've been called three times. I did enjoy the first experience as Dr. Wes did, getting to see the inner workings. And just the same I was bounced from the jury in a heartbeat.

Same experience for the next two events. Since docs get bounced so readily it seems pointless to make us take off days that almost assuredly will not serve any public benefit.

Ian said...

Interesting. It's as if they don't want someone who might understand what's going on. . .

It is nice to know I'm not the only one. Try telling them you work for a TV station. They can't get you out fast enough.

I wonder if someone has compiled a list of professions that make a "jury pariah".

Anonymous said...

During residency a few years ago ( when I was 25) I was called for an assault case. The assaulter was 25 and they were taking as many twenty-something college students as they could get on that jury. Theoretically more sympathetic to a guy their age beating the snot out of another young guy?? Anyway, they heard I was a 25yo MD and I was gone post-haste. I missed two days of ICU for that! Awesome!

Anonymous said...

Wes, I always wear a coat & tie to jury selection; I figure that lawyers are lookin' for women and guys who wear NASCAR t-shirts and ballcaps. I also count on rejection of engineers like myself during voir dire as quickly as MDs like you and your colleagues. I am a skeptical potential juror, esp when it comes to inductive reasoning on the part of lawyers (e.g., Ms Smith's infant's malady is "of course" due to the OB/Gyn's' missteps during birth; what a crock of s**t). Great website BTW; I read you regularly as I have ATF treated with Flecanide, and that med works MAGIC.
cheerio! chuck

Anonymous said...

Most plaintiff's lawyers will tell you they want pretty smart people, and preferably, people who earn a fair amount of money.

However, given the amount of tort reform propaganda thrust upon doctors, and the unquestioning way they swallow it, can you blame a plaintiff's lawyer for bumping you, Wes?

Particularly considering this statement of yours: " just the drama between two individuals with one trying to get compensated, handsomely, for a rear-end collision and another individual trying to send the other packing with nothing."

You have no idea what the plaintiff was asking for, yet you assume he's trying to scam the system, and you assume the defendant will be stuck with high legal fees. Given that he likely had insurance, that's almost certainly not the case.

And while yes it was an "accident", that doesn't mean that "accident" doesn't have financial consequences, and the person who caused the "accident" shouldn't have to pay for those.

Anirban said...

you assume the defendant will be stuck with high legal fees. Given that he likely had insurance, that's almost certainly not the case

Aha now I know where the money grows , the insurance trees ,ready to be harvested

Anonymous said...

Viola is a woman's name. You meant "voila".

Anonymous said...

The DuPage county coroner's office gave me (and a few others) the following jury duty tip for DuPage:

Show up as early as you can on Monday morning your jury duty week, with the goal of being selected for a coroner's inquest jury. Being on an inquest jury means you're done in a day or two, max. The goal is to avoid being selected for a normal jury (length of the trial), or heaven forbid, a grand jury = potentially several months of life disruption, er, service.

Deoxy said...

Most plaintiff's lawyers will tell you they want pretty smart people, and preferably, people who earn a fair amount of money.

How do you tell when a lawyer is lying? Their lips are moving. See the next point:

I wonder if someone has compiled a list of professions that make a "jury pariah".

Pretty much anything considered a "profession", though some are worse than others.

You have no idea what the plaintiff was asking for, yet you assume he's trying to scam the system, and you assume the defendant will be stuck with high legal fees.

The defendant WILL be stuck with high legal fees, end of story. The defendant MAY have insurance which pays for it FOR them, but the defense ALWAYS pays.

In court, in most cases, the outcome is fairly obvious, if all the facts are known. Therefore, in almost every trial, at least one side wants people who don't think much for themselves, who can be convinced by the lawyer's showmanship or junk science, as that's most of their case.

Another factor lading to the exclusion of thinking people is that thinking people might decide the case based on the FACTS instead of who was the better lawyer, and goodness, we can't have that!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:

the two individuals in "just the drama between two individuals with one trying to get compensated, handsomely, for a rear-end collision and another individual trying to send the other packing with nothing." are probably the lawyers, who are the main players in any trial.

Anonymous said...

AS another engineer mentioned, wearing a tie and looking as if you really had a purpose outside of the court is a pretty sure way of getting out of selection. IN the numerous times I have been called, the only time I was chosen was when I was wearing a t-shirt as an experiment to see if I would be picked. In every case I sat in on, any gentleman wearing a tie was dismissed.

markm said...

One alleged issue with professionals is that in theory their superior knowledge might overawe the other jurors, to the extent that the case will really be judged by one rather than by twelve. (Judges think that's OK only when they are the one.) So in the past, professionals were often automatically bounced by the judge without even consulting counsel. However, when that rule was adopted, the average educational level of citizens was around 8th grade or lower. Judges consider an engineer or a doctor far less threatening when there are several other college graduates on the jury, and most of the panel at least got through high school. But if the judge doesn't do it, professionals are still likely to be tossed by one counsel or the other, even at the cost of using up peremptory challenges. With the extent of discovery nowadays, any decent lawyer will have a good idea which side should win on the evidence, and if it isn't his side and he goes to trial anyhow, it's because the settlement offers weren't as good as the chance of getting a jury that either isn't bright enough to figure it out, or can be swayed by emotion to ignore the facts and the law - and an engineer or a doctor isn't likely to fit...

You filled out a form, which included your profession, long before you were called in, right? And yet, they never check those forms to screen out people who obviously will not be on the jury. It's not just professions. My wife filled out a long form, with among other things a lawsuit she had been involved in against a government agency - and yet, she was twice called in the jury panel for other cases involving this agency. Even without the information on the form, the judge in these cases was the same as on her old case, and some of the lawyers involved would have known of her prior involvement, and of her opinion that the agency was staffed with idiots and malicious crooks...

She would have "enjoyed" serving on those juries, but short of perjury, changing her name, and wearing a mask through voir dire, it wasn't going to happen. She was clearly prejudiced - and yet, she had to spend a day or two sitting around the court waiting for them to call on her and "discover" what should have already been obvious. The only possible reason is that the court's put no value at all on a juror's time.

Anonymous said...

They don't want nurses on juries either.

BTW, we don't call them "accidents" where I come from. I would have replied "I'm sorry, did you mean collision?".